Battle Angel Alita’s Post-Flesh Odyssey


The volume was already tattered by the time it made its way to me, passed almost reverently between the awkward 8th graders who usually spent most of their ride on the packed schoolbus (“Cattlecar 47” we named it, after students started sitting on the floor) staring out the window.

The book was Tears of an Angel, the second volume of Battle Angel Alita, Viz graphics’ translation of Yukito Kishiro’s Gunnm.

This was 1996 and in our part of the world, at least, manga was all but unknown. Inside we found a world like nothing we’d seen. An oppressive city hung in the sky over a massive scrapyard where no birds (or anything else) could fly. Bodies were replaced constantly with rugged, mad machinery. Blood flowed like water. In the midst of it all, the characters tried, desperately, to carve out their own peace. We were enraptured.


Not all youthful inspirations stand the test of time. But re-reading “Alita” recently, with a James Cameron-directed (urgh) movie on the way, I was pleased to find that it did. Even today, few visions of a mechanistic dystopia are as relentless, ballsy and downright heartbreaking as this.

The story begins with Dr. Ido, a physician in the hellish Scrapyard that toils to keep the floating city of Tiphares (Zalem in the original) supplied, finding the cybernetic body of a young girl in a pile of said scrap. He revives her, intent on keeping her pure, innocent and doll-like. But Ido (who has his own dark secrets) soon finds that Alita (Gally in the original) is really, really good at killing things. What’s more, battle seems to be the only thing that gives her peace — and her only chance to find who she really is. The combination of a teenage girl’s mind with a killer’s ferocity makes for one of the most believably torn characters in manga.


That inner conflict fuels the epic odyssey that follows, in which Alita falls in and out of love, topples despots, begins to lay bare the secrets of the world around her and brutally pays back anyone who gets in her way. The art’s superb, the action fast-moving and the characters (including the most disturbing mad scientist since Trevor Goodchild) masterfully fleshed-out (though there’s little flesh left in this future).

Battle Angel Alita would spawn an anime that didn’t quite measure up, an unfortunately lackluster sequel series (“Last Order”) from Kushiro and now the oft-delayed Cameron movie (supposedly planned for 3-D).

But the original series is available for $10 a volume (less if used). It remains a classic and well worth any hard-earned cash laid down for it.

16 Responses to “Battle Angel Alita’s Post-Flesh Odyssey”

  1. Ashbet Says:

    I love that series so much :)

    I’ve been meaning to pick up the follow-ups, since I saw they’d come out — don’t bother, eh?

    I actually really liked the anime, because it did a really decent job of staying true to the art style and the majority of the storyline — I just wish that they’d continued with the Battle Angel OAV series.

    Now I’m wondering where my copies have gotten off to . . .

  2. the daniel Says:

    Gunnm is a thrill-ride. Great concepts AND excellent pacing – a nice mix of fun and serious. I gave away my copy of the manga, maybe I’ll download some scans and visit it again :)

  3. DJ Velveteen Says:

    I’ve been considering a revisitation of this series for a long time. I’m glad there are others for whom it passed the test post-nostalgia days; I’ll move it up my list.

  4. Damien Says:

    Cameron Directed the two good Terminator films and Aliens.

    What’s wrong, there?

  5. Alice Says:

    Funny, I remember seeing a little volume of this series floating around in one of my classrooms in middle school, but never bothered to obtain it for long enough to read it….I guess now it’s time?

  6. Angela N. Hunt Says:

    You gotta pick up Battle Angel Alita: Last Order then. OMG, awesome.

  7. paul blume Says:

    Been a good (or not-so-good) 7 years since I read through the entire run of BAA at a library farther North — it was one of those things that kept me going during a particularly trying period of what I laughingly call my ‘life’. Somehow, at the time, I could relate to her always seeming to find herself dis-assembled on some rubbish tip.
    T’riffic series, must see if PLCMC — the library I call ‘master’ — has any.
    Thanks, David!

  8. Nekokaiju Says:

    This book was very influential for me. Few comics make you cry and Alita, made me cry more than once. Plus the over the top panzerkunst action was amazing.

  9. Bianca Alexis Says:

    Agreed Gunnm was a favorite anime of mine growing up, but alas the english dub is god awful! Hopefully Cameron won’t fuck this up, but most comic book renditions are not the best. They just don’t know how to find really good actors for the part.

    What are your favorite comic book renditions?

  10. David Forbes Says:

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone, glad to know there’s plenty of others out there who loved, and were inspired by, this series.

    Ashbet: “Last Order” has its defenders, as you can see here, and its existence is a result of Kushiro saying he always wanted to finish the series differently. While I respect an artist’s right to do that, I don’t necessarily agree.

    The original series had a superb pacing all too rare in manga and a well constructed world that was revealed bit by bit as Alita discovered her own identity. By magnifying the scope of the world, taking it into space, and redefining some of the characters (Desty Nova in particular), “Last Order” just felt like too much of a continuation of something that had already reached its logical end. The original had the right balance of epic and closure, and I personally would have been happy with things stopping there.

    The anime was decent, but it lacked a certain edge that the manga had.

    Damien: Cameron’s had his high points, assuredly, but with the exception of Aliens and Terminator 2, most of his stuff falls into the 3/4 star movie range: good, but no masterpiece. Furthermore, the last passably decent movie he made was in 1994. I think he could do a credible job at the action sequences, but I don’t think he has the touch for characterization necessary to pull Battle Angel off.

    The nail in the coffin on his effort though, is that he’s using performance capture tech (the same stuff behind The Polar Express and Beowulf) for Alita herself. I think that’s a really bad decision, considering a major point of the series is Alita’s humanity.

    Nekokaiju: Yeah, same here. The love story in volume 2 still remains one of my favorite tearjerkers.

    Bianca: V for Vendetta is probably my favorite comic book rendition. It’s ironic that Alan Moore, however understandably, washed his hands of all movie adaptations of his work, just when someone finally made a good one. In scenes like this it powerfully captures the essence of the original.

    As for the Battle Angel movie, I’m willing to be convinced and maybe Cameron will make a masterpiece, but so far he seems to be going the spectacle route (with the choice of method for the movie, etc). For Gunnm to really work, there needs to be a heart in its machine.

  11. elekrisiti Says:

    this was the first manga i ever picked up. i chose it randomly and was very pleased and inspired. yukito’s art is very well done. i actually have a rasterbation of the photo next to the cover on my wall.

  12. m1k3y Says:

    if only they’d make the movie more in the vein of Speed Racer

    – also, i liked The Abyss.. :D but not T2

  13. meardearna Says:

    Battle Angel Alita is definitely one of the most accomplished manga there has ever been.

    About 6 years ago, I randomly downloaded an untitled 3min CG animation from someone over soulseek. It is of a scene in Battle Angel Alita where Gally enters the race and eventually wins. The animation is exceptionally well done with a dedicated adrenalin pumped electro score to it. Since seeing it, I couldn’t get enough of it and has been hoping the feature length version would come out soon. Maybe it was some kind of promo thing between animation studios with film studios?
    If anyone know anything more about this short CG animation, please let me know! I’ve always been intrigued!
    And if anyone wants to see it, I’ll dig it out of my old pc x

    PS ‘Last Order’ doesn’t feel the same perhaps also because Gally seems too invincible by this point?

  14. Chris Says:

    I loved the anime when I was in highschool. I still have my subtitled VHS tape! I’m actually keeping my fingers crossed for Cameron’s film adaptation. Maybe he’ll get on it after Avatar?

  15. FROZE Says:

    Love this cyber-series! It seems a cyberspace lifestyle is not so far away. I myself after reading Mona Lisa Override, Neuromancer got a blast of cybernetic ideas, and noticed a superlative correlation between anime, William Gibson and the rise of mechanical, new-age elements in fashion and design.

  16. Ken Says:

    I agree with the author here that the Last Order series did seem a bit pointless. However, one must remember that the Last Order series is already several volumes longer than the original BAA series, with no end in sight. It may be that Last Order may be INTENDED to be a 20 + volume series. In that case, I don’t mind the fluff, where nothing seems to happen. It’s just more expanded than BAA.